Merchant & Mills, in the charming English town of Rye, was established in 2010 by Carolyn Denham and Roderick Field. The partners founded Merchant & Mills to bring style to the overlooked world of sewing. A treasure trove of sewing patterns, fabrics, sewing notions and tools, the shop’s branding and packaging is modern and timeless, creating a brand that is beloved by designers and makers. A visit to Merchant & Mills is an opportunity for customers to enjoy a tactile experience rather than just the visual one of the successful online business. Carolyn shares her inspirations, advice and favorite shops with The Shopkeepers.
Who designed the shop? We did, it’s not as easy as I thought to design a shop, so it is easy to end up with dead spaces or with nowhere to put stock. It’s a balance of beauty and practicality.
What are you known for? Fabric and patterns.
Where are products sourced and made? We source from wherever that product is made best. We sell a lot of fabric and customers always ask if it is made in the UK. Most of the wool, oilskin and linen fabrics are from the UK but we also go wherever that product is made best, so we go to Japan for their delicate subtle weaves and prints to India for riotous block prints and traditional indigo dyes, to Europe for other linens and wools.
We try to visit all our suppliers at least once a year, it is important to have strong close relationship with everyone we work with, we become part of the same family and grown together.
The same principle applies to all the tools and notions we sell. Some products we produce ourselves in house.
What makes your shop unique? Us, we are a stand alone brand we do not stock other brands. We are very unique in the market place; I don’t think there is anyone else that does what we do. We are a one stop shop for makers and sewers, but we also have a strong visual identity and design style which we carry through all our products.
Who are your customers? They could be anyone form a young fashion student to a professional designer, we appeal to the cultural aesthete as well as the practical seamstress.
How has the internet impacted your business? The internet is an essential part of our business, we have an international reach that we couldn’t possibly imagine with a shop alone, whether it be through our online shop or our social media.
Carolyn Denham & Roderick Field, shopkeepers at Merchant & Mills
Who inspires you? People, I love nothing more than people watching. Makers, skill crafts people of all genres are a joy, the talent that we have around us is amazing.
What inspires you? Fabric, fabric is all about potential. I love to travel the world sourcing beautiful cloth.
Before I was a shopkeeper, I…. was a project manager for an interior design practice.
The hardest lesson learned in starting a business? Every day you have an endless list of decisions.
What task do you like to delegate? Decision making.
The best lesson you have learned opening a shop? I have the best job in world, having the shop doors open brings in such a wonderful mass of like-minded people who love what we do, but you need to work on your shop all the time, keep it current and keep it exciting.
Your advice for anyone wanting to open a shop? Make sure you love it; that you love your product. Remember that just because you like shopping doesn’t mean you will like running a shop. Selling is about taking time to make a relationship with your customers, each and every person that walks through your door is important.
Which famous person would you like to visit your shop? I get quite star struck when someone famous comes into the shop, it’s all a bit embarrassing.
If you weren’t a shopkeeper you would be…? A rambler.
What is your perfect day off? A good Ramble with Roderick and Flower (our little dog).
Do you have five favorite shops? I’m not much of a shopper, I do like to pop into: Other Shop, London; Baileys Home and Garden, Ross on Wye; Petersham Nurseries, London; The End, Hay on Wye; and the V&A, London.
Do you have a favorite neighborhood coffee shop/restaurant? Tanners Broomhill beach, perfect for a windy breakfast
I wish I could… Spend more time with my Mum.
On the Future of Retail
“I think retail shops need to think of themselves as a window, they need a strong online presence to appeal to a much wider audience. They need to offer something unique. They need to have a strong personality not try to offer something for everyone. And most of all think out of the box do not be afraid to try a completely different approach.”
22a Winchelsea Rd, Rye, East Sussex TN31 7EL